TL;DR – A delight, a joy, a battle, and a film for the ages.
Post-Credit Scene – There is a post-credit scene.
Disclosure – I paid for the Paramount+ service that viewed this film
A Knight’s Tale Review –
As I sit here at the time of writing, it is the night of Christmas Day, and I am not seeing any family today for the first time in a while. While I have never minded that isolation, it brings a certain melancholy on days like this. However, it also brings a particular reflective thought. It is in that mood that I thought I would take a moment and look back at an icon from my childhood, a film that still sits on my Top 10 films of All Time List.
So to set the scene, and let’s just use the title card of the film itself, “In medieval times a sport arose. Embraced by noble and peasant fans alike, though only noble knights could compete. The sport was jousting.”. In this world, we meet three lowly squires of Sir Ector (Nick Brimble), who has unfortunately died before he can win the tournament. William Thatcher (Heath Ledger), Roland (Mark Addy), and Wat (Alan Tudyk) must move quickly because they have not eaten in three days, and they are about to forfeit the match. William decided to ride in his place, but you must be of noble birth to compete, so if they are discovered, it’s to the gallows they go. But if you can pull this off, maybe you don’t stop at just one tournament.
I want to start this review by looking at the film’s start because few movies set the mood just as well as A Knight’s Tale. Even while we are still in the logos, the music hits you right in the feels. Strong brass rings through the air, creating a regal feel and preparing you even before the title card places this film in the past. Then while you are reading the title card, before that even finishes, we get a slow-motion shot of two horses colliding, lances exploding, and knights falling to the ground. In thirty seconds, you have excited your audience, located them in a place and time, and then reminded them of the action they are about to watch. A Knight’s Tale is up there with greats of this era like The Matrix that captivate you in a moment.
As well as those opening moments, the film is also very economical with its time. For example, we get a comedic montage sequence, which explores characters while explaining to the audience how the world of jousting works. The introduction of the film’s love interest, Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon), is used to describe the world and class differences, even in the nobles. It also gets into the weeds of how the jousting is scored while revealing just what a scumbag our primary villain, Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell), is. Every moment is used to its fullest, making watching and rewatching it a joy.
While this is a film with clear substance, it also has a particular style and revels in it. A Knight’s Tale is a film that is grounded in a time and place and filled with anachronisms at every turn. This is a movie set at a specific time and place. In fact, it is so precise that I can tell you that it took place over six months in 1372. Geoffrey Chaucer and Edward the Black Prince (James Purefoy) were real people alive at the time. Even William’s cover of Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein from Gelderland was real. However, we open the film to everyone in the stands crashing along to Queen’s We Will Rock You, and every one of Jocelyn’s outfits look like they came off a runway in Paris. This clash should not work, but more than that, these two opposing sides colliding together create a world greater than the sum of its parts. An excellent example of this blend is the first banquet, where William/Ulric is forced to make up a dance from his homeland. The music starts appropriately for the time and place. There is no big orchestral score but a simple flute, lute, and drum combination while the partygoers perform an approximation of a medieval dance. However, at every clap, the intensity grows as we segue into Golden Years by David Bowie, and the dancing takes on a more modern vibe. Even the camera goes from being locked off and formal to sweeping around the dancers with a fluid motion.
You can have an engaging setting, a unique style, and an engaging narrative, but without characters, you care about, you could still fail … and the characters might be the film’s best part. Heath Ledger brings every ounce of charm to the show, which is good because William is not always likeable as he stumbles around this world. Rufus Sewell is the perfect foil, arrogant to a core. Few people could get someone to lose so painfully, but I can imagine that Shannyn Sossamon is one of them. James Purefoy brings a noble quality that you just can’t fake. Also, the whole team of Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk, Paul Bettany & Laura Fraser work so well together that it is a riot of laughter at every turn. Throughout the film’s runtime, everyone gets a moment to shine, or at least stand out, which is grand given the ensemble cast. There are moments where you can see the cast members desperately trying not to break character because someone else is going at 100 miles an hour with their delivery.
Indeed, those characters are so good that there are line deliveries that have lived rent-free in my head since 2001.
“His spirit is gone, but his stench remains.”
“My Lords, My Ladies …. And everyone else not sitting on a cushion!”
“It’s called a LANCE … hello!”
“Well, The Pope may be French, But Jesus is English. You’re on.”
“You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you absolutely have been found wanting.”
While I loved every moment back with this film, it is clear that some aspects of the narrative have not aged as well as I remembered. As well as this, the general narrative conceit of this being a sports film but about jousting sometimes clashes with the setting. The film has to hit every one of those sporting film narrative beats, but it could have done without some of them. Finally, you cannot help but feel the movie grind to a halt when we return to London. But these are but minor issues in a general film of brilliance.
In the end, do we recommend A Knight’s Tale? Absolutely. This is one of those films that is an utter joy to watch every time. Every single character is swinging for the fences at every moment. The production, design, and style are a delight, and every screening delivers new discoveries. If you liked A Knight’s Tale, we would also recommend to you 10 Things I Hate About You or Ever After.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of A Knight’s Tale
Directed by – Brian Helgeland
Written by – Brian Helgeland
Based on – The Knight’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer
Music by – Carter Burwell
Cinematography by – Richard Greatrex
Edited by – Kevin Stitt
Production/Distribution Companies – Columbia Pictures, Escape Artists, Finestkind Productions & Sony Pictures
Starring – Heath Ledger, Shannyn Sossamon, Rufus Sewell, Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk, Paul Bettany, Laura Fraser, Bérénice Bejo, James Purefoy, Christopher Cazenove, Steven O’Donnell, Scott Handy, Nick Brimble, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, David Schneider, Alice Connor, Leagh Conwell, Jonathan Slinger
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: PG; United States: PG-13